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Religious Significance of Cannabis in Nepal

yogis and sadhus
Sadhu at a closed temple in Kathmandu Dubar Square

Nepal bears a long and significant history of cannabis use.  For centuries marijuana has been cultivated and has grown wild.  It’s been used for its psychoactive as well as its medicinal properties.  However, the most important aspect of Cannabis is the religious significance of Cannabis in Nepal. Since the beginning of Hinduism, about 2300 B.C., spiritual people have been consuming Cannabis as an act of worship.

It was so embodied in the culture and way of life that the government of Nepal sold hash out of brick and mortar stores. Nepali charas (finger hashish) became very popular in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Legal hashish shops were all over Nepal until 1973 when cannabis was declared illegal. After the ban, the law was rarely enforced. When it was enforced, it was for political motives. There are exceptions to the ban too. This is due to the religious significance of Cannabis in Nepal.


Most of the people in Nepal (over 80%) follow the Hindu religion. The pujari (Hindu priests) and the dreadlocked sadhus (holy men) maintain an unofficial exemption from the Cannabis ban. Their spiritual rights to cannabis are generally upheld and respected. Sadhus often use cannabis to aid their meditation, imitating Shiva, the god they worship.

Cannabis is usually consumed at religious festivals like those in honor of Lord Shiva. He is one of the three major Hindu gods. The others being Vishnu and Brahma. Shiva is known to be fond of marijuana and the holy men devoted to his worship are also inadvertently devoted to the consumption of cannabis.


Maha Shivaratri marks the day Shiva rescued the universe from darkness and took the goddess Parvati as his wife. It is celebrated at night (ratri). The celebration is normally intended to be introspective with meditation on one’s self and Shiva. It is also characterized by the consumption of Cannabis.

During Maha Shivaratri (The Great Night of Shiva), groups of dreadlocked Hindu holy men (sadhu’s) sit around bonfires at Hindu temples, and smoke hashish through clay pipes. Sights like this can be observed at the holiest Hindu temple, Pashupatinath, located in Kathmandu.

Hindu holy people and devotees travel from all over India and Nepal for the festival. Ahead of the holiday, they lounge and pray at the temple to commune with Shiva as well as smoke hashish. Both actions are regarded as symbols of religious devotion to Shiva because he used marijuana to relieve pain, for relaxation, and to focus in his meditation.

Sadhus share their marijuana with those devotees and worshipers who care to indulge and will often offer a smoke to anybody willing on normal days. While temple authorities currently claim to be clamping down on cannabis use, it is considered acceptable during the holiday which takes place in February or March, based on the Hindu luni-solar calendar. The celebration lasts for 10 days.

Pashupatinath by the Bagmati River
Pashupatinath by the Bagmati River


Owing to its religious significance, cannabis remains a highly celebrated substance in Nepal. Hinduism and the love for Shiva fuels people’s desire for cannabis consumption. And due to its many applications as a food source and as a textile many Nepalis can never truly view it as unlawful.

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